Most Asian markets rise but geopolitical worries sap gains


HONG KONG: Most Asian markets rose Tuesday but investors remain on edge over geopolitical tensions with US-Russian relations strained by last week’s Syria strike and sabre-rattling on the Korean peninsula.

While stocks pared the initial plunge that met news of the US missile attack on a Syrian airbase, the brewing crisis is keeping dealers on edge heading into the company earnings season.

President Donald Trump’s administration has rankled Moscow by saying it sees no peace in civil war-hit Syria while Bashar al-Assad remains president, while Russia has described the strikes as inflicting “considerable damage” to already “lamentable” bilateral ties.

The US said the strike was in retaliation for a chemical attack on rebel forces that killed dozens.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Moscow this week to discuss the crisis with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov as members of the Group of Seven leading economies are meeting in Italy to hammer out a plan aimed at getting Russia to rein in Assad.

Hong Kong edged up 0.2% and Shanghai gained 0.3% while Sydney added 0.6% and Singapore 0.1%. Wellington, Manila and Jakarta also rose.

But Tokyo ended the morning 0.5% lower, with a stronger yen hitting exporters.

Toshiba plunged almost two percent on uncertainty about its scheduled release of earnings for the April-December quarter.

Some reports say it is considering unveiling the twice-postponed report without auditor approval but the leading business daily Nikkei said it might put it off again.

The stories overshadowed reports that Taiwan’s Foxconn had told cash-strapped Toshiba it is prepared to pay US$27 billion for its computer-chip business, the firm’s prized possession.

Seoul was 0.2 % lower on concerns about North Korea tensions after Pyongyang hit out at the US deployment of a naval strike group to the Korean peninsula, warning it was ready for “war” in a further escalation of tensions.

Trump has previously threatened unilateral action if China — the North’s sole major ally — fails to help curb the rogue state’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

Trump, whose Syria strike was widely interpreted as a warning to North Korea, has asked advisors for a range of options to rein in Pyongyang.

On oil markets both main contracts built on the gains seen since Friday’s attack, which flamed speculation about the impact on exports from the crude-rich Middle East.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate is up almost three percent since the strike while Brent has added more than two percent, with the closure of a Libyan oilfield also providing support.